You’ve probably heard someone say law school is a marathon, not a sprint. You are working hard over the entire semester to get ready for your finals. This means that you need to consistently care for yourself so that you will be ready for your exams.
There are also things you can do on a day-to-day basis to build your endurance. These tips are similar to the strategies athletes use to train for physical endurance sports. You can use the same tricks to build and maintain your mental endurance so that you can stay engaged for the entire semester.
1. Get more consistent sleep
One of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to set yourself up for long-term success is to sleep. It might seem like the only way to fit all your reading and activities in is to cut back on your sleep. But, sleep is probably the very last thing you should cut back on.
A good night’s sleep can improve your attention and memory retention. Assuming you are actually doing your law school work, consistently getting enough sleep is probably the easiest way to improve your academic performance. Researchers have found that “overall, better quality, longer duration, and greater consistency of sleep correlated with better grades.”
Consistency is key. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep each and every night. According to a study from Nature:
Sleep inconsistency (sometimes called “social jet lag”) is defined by inconsistency in sleep schedule and/or duration from day to day. It is typically seen in the form of sleep debt during weekdays followed by oversleep on weekends. Sleep inconsistency tends to be greatest in adolescents and young adults who stay up late but are constrained by strict morning schedules. Adolescents who experience greater sleep inconsistency perform worse in school.
Another study suggests that early bedtimes are important in academic performance. Researchers concluded the “timing of sleep and wakefulness appears to be a more important contributor to academic performance than total amount of sleep. [Total sleep time] did not correlate with self-reported grade point average, while earlier bed times and wake times did correlate with higher grades.”
From my own experience, prioritizing sleep actually helped me be more efficient with my work. I had more energy to put into law school. I also knew that I needed to get my work done between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM, which helped me prioritize and focus on tasks.
2. Exercise Several Times a Week
One study controlled a number of variables, such as “gender, study time and participation in college sports” and area of study. “After controlling for such variables, the findings still showed that exercise made a sizable difference in a student’s G.P.A. On a 4.0 grade scale, students who exercised vigorously seven days a week had G.P.A.’s that were, on average, 0.4 points higher than those who didn’t exercise.”
There are many ways to exercise and some great online resources for those of us who can’t make it to the gym right now. Some people will benefit from calming their mind with a yoga class. I am partial to Yoga with Adrienne. For others, you might want to distract your mind with a HIIT workout, strength training, or Barre. Some students will want a social activity by joining an intramural league or running club. (Remember, follow CDC and local health guidelines right now).
3. Be Intentional About Taking Time Off
Building your endurance also requires taking breaks. Athletes regularly schedule recovery days. These days help prevent injuries and give the body time to adjust. Recovery days are just as important for mental training.
One of the mistakes I made my first semester was to avoid taking breaks. I felt like I had to study 24/7. I distinctly remember reading an E&E at 10:00 PM on the metro when I could have been reading something fun.
Don’t wait to be done with your to-do list to take time off. You might think that you’ll take a break once you are done with your reading. But, the work in law school can feel endless. Even if you have done your reading, there are always practice exams, job applications, or extra-curriculars.
Instead of waiting for a break, make sure you are scheduling breaks for yourself. This might be an hour or two every day or a day off once a week (or some combination of the two). Make sure you are doing something you enjoy during this time. For me, it was reading the New Yorker. For you it might be going for a run, getting breakfast with a friend, or doing the crossword.
When you take your break, try to ‘put law school away.’ This can be especially hard when you are taking classes from home since there is no physical separation between your law school space and your home space. Closing your books and putting them on a shelf or out of sight is a good first step. I also cover my computer monitor with a scarf on the weekends as a signal to myself that I am taking a break.
If you are consistently sleeping, exercising, and taking breaks, you will find it easier to stay focused on your work and work efficiently.
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